Editor’s note: This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental stewardship and addressing the impact of COVID-19. The series is coordinated by ACES, the Alliance of Climate and Environmental Stewards.
One year ago, we considered a new and unusual trend toward light enrollment in our outdoor education programs. We asked ourselves, “Are we no longer as relevant as soccer to local families?” While attendance had always been strong since our founding year in 2007, in late 2019 we noticed some road bumps and contemplated what we could do differently in the new year.
Never could we have foreseen, as spring 2020 arrived, the groundswell of demand for outdoor education that would surge by summer, not only in Newburyport but also across the county, state, and country. While 90% of summer programs across New England closed because of COVID-19, we persevered. We endeavored to make sure that local youth, as in so many summers past, could continue to grow strong by nature, outdoors with their friends at Merrohawke, both in the forest and upon the sea at Boat Camp.
Following the best available health and safety guidance, and despite absorbing increased COVID-19 costs and sacrificing significant lost revenue, we ran at half capacity and served as many children and families as we could.
Parents shed tears of gratitude at drop-off that we had found a way to keep some kind of normalcy in their child’s summer by staying open. Yet hundreds of children were left on waitlists.
This year, with waitlists again building, we continue striving to meet the unprecedented and overwhelming demand for outdoor education programs. We will do all that we can to ensure that, during these most tumultuous times, children can experience the immeasurable health benefits of spending time outdoors, together with families and apart with peers. Never before has the value of spending time in nature been so relevant.
As author David Sobel writes, “If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it." Time in nature, now more than ever, fosters love and future stewardship, of the earth.
We remain deeply committed to making sure as many children as possible, as safely as possible, have an opportunity to grow strong by nature at Merrohawke, now and in the years ahead.
At Merrohawke, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, youth grow strong by nature through experiential learning on land, river and sea. Learn more at www.merrohawke.org